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Parenting by the Book

I’ve been turning to books for answers my whole life. In elementary school, Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret? by Judy Blume taught me about menstruation. As a teenager, the anonymous diary Go Ask Alice scared the living day lights out of me when it came to drugs. And in my twenties, I read just about every self-help book on the market from The Cinderella Complex by Colette Dowling to Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood. So it really isn’t a surprise that when I had kids, parenting books became a permanent fixture on my nightstand.

What I’ve realized over the last seven years, however, is just as there are no “rules” for snagging a man, information on parenting walks the fine line between empowering and overwhelming. I am an English teacher so, in my mind, parenting books are the equivalent of the God-forsaken five-paragraph essay. A necessary evil. Just as an essay needs paragraphs, parents need direction. Without the foundation, many students will ramble on for two pages without any paragraph breaks the way a child melts down at the grocery store at 10 o’clock at night.

That’s not to say that rules aren’t made to be broken. A conjunction, like and or but, shouldn’t start a sentence. But that doesn’t mean doing it on purpose, infrequently, isn’t acceptable. It’s like letting your kid watch too much TV when they are home sick with the flu. For me, the key to parenting books is the same as writing. It’s knowing how to strike a balance between your style and the conventions by which we’re bound.

Last year, I tried to start a book club. While all of my friends enjoyed reading Tara Road by Maeve Binchy for our first meeting, participation quickly dropped off. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Everyone came out for margaritas; it’s just that only me and another woman ever managed to get through the selected book. We became, what a friend dubbed, the “un-book club.”

Still, I’m the kind of person who keeps scraps of papers with titles of parenting books in my desk so I’ve decided to start a different kind of book club, a virtual one. While I’ve learned a lot over the years, the reality is my children are constantly changing. Annabelle, my seven-year-old and rule follower, has been testing out some eye rolling and “you never listen to what I have to say” lines lately. While Lily, my strong-willed three-year-old, will eat any fruit you put in front of her but turns her nose up at carbohydrates, of all things. I’m Italian so refusing pasta and pizza is unheard of in my world. Needless to say, I need help.

So here’s the deal. I’ll tackle the latest and greatest parenting books, sharing whatever insights are worth passing on. Granted, I’m no expert. My knowledge on parenting, like most areas in my life, is one part preparation, one part improvisation. Basically, I’ll read the parenting books so you don’t have to. Or so you can stop before you finish and still get the gist. I’ll even test drive a couple of the theories for a few good laughs at my expense.

Come on. Who hasn’t got time for that?

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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